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Cardiff scientists join hunt for 'ripples in space-time'

A dust disc being sucked into a black hole. Credit: PA/PA Archive/PA Images

An international project involving Cardiff University researchers, set up to find the first direct evidence of the existence of gravitational waves, has been officially inaugurated at a ceremony in the America.

Researchers at the University’s School of Physics and Astronomy will use a powerful supercomputer to comb through data from two gravitational wave detectors that have undergone a major upgrade as part of the Advanced LIGO (Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory) Project.

Gravitational waves are tiny ripples in space-time that are emitted as a result of violent cosmic events, like exploding stars and merging black holes.

They were first predicted by Albert Einstein as a consequence of his general theory of relativity, but have yet to be detected directly.

It is believed the detection of gravitational waves will usher in a new era of astronomy, allowing researchers to examine the last minutes of the lives of black holes, as well as provide a snapshot of the Universe just a fraction of a second after the Big Bang.

At Cardiff University we hope to use these observations to understand the nature of space-time and matter under extreme conditions, and to test Einstein's theory of gravity when gravitational fields become super strong.

– Professor B S Sathyaprakash, Cardiff University

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New research finds babies should wake at night

New research from Swansea University challenges the idea that babies should be sleeping through the night.

715 mums were questioned in the study. Credit: Uli Deck/DPA/Press Association Images

The study led by the Department of Public Health, Policy and Social Sciences asked mothers with a baby aged 6 - 12 months how often their child woke in the night and whether they fed their baby when it did.

The findings firstly showed that more than three quarters of babies at this age still regularly woke at least once in the night with six out of ten having at least one milk feed during the night.

The study also showed that although mums who were breastfeeding tended to feed their baby more at night, there was no difference in the number of times babies woke up dependent on whether they were breast or formula fed, how many feeds they had in the day or how many solid meals they ate.

The findings are very interesting as they firstly challenge the idea that babies should be sleeping through the night once they are past a few weeks old and secondly that what you feed babies will help their sleep. There is a common belief that formula milk or giving more solid foods will help your baby sleep better and this study shows this isn’t true.

– Dr Amy Brown, MSc Child Public Health

New analysis shows extent of attacks on sheep

Credit: David Jones/PA Archive/PA Images

North Wales Police say they are using specially collated data to tackle the problem of dog attacks on sheep.

The North Wales Police Rural Crime Team shows the true extent of attacks which they say is an under reported national issue.

The analysis shows that in the last 12 months there were 108 separate incidents recorded, with most involving more than one sheep.

The county with the highest incidents is Gwynedd with 27 recorded, nearly three times that of the Wrexham County, with 10.

The average number of attacks is nine a month. In one incident more than 30 sheep were attacked by a Rottweiler in Buckley.

The statistics also reveal that Friday is the day of the week when most attacks occur, substantially more than on a Monday, but it unclear why this is the case.

As a team we needed to decide what the real issues are with rural crime and we have achieved this by recording accurate daily statistics for all manner of incidents.

This has led to significant drops in all rural incidents in North Wales, including sheep attacks. We have found that the only answer with such attacks is to take a zero tolerance approach with irresponsible dog owners.

This has led to court cases and heavy fines.

– Sgt Rob Taylor, Rural Crime Team

Crayfish released to replace those hit by pesticide spill

White-clawed crayfish released into the River Ennig, near Brecon Credit: NRW

Natural Resources Wales (NRW) says nearly 600 juvenile crayfish have been released into a Powys river to replace the original population which fell victim to a pollution incident in 2012.

It says the white-clawed crayfish have been raised in the Cynrig Hatchery to replace the fish which were killed when a pesticide release affected a 2km stretch of the River Ennig at Talgarth, near Brecon.

Other species such as bullheads were also found dead in the river but it was the crayfish deaths which caused particular concern.

The white claw, Britain’s only native crayfish, was already under threat from disease, climate change, habitat degradation and competition from the more aggressive American crayfish which were introduced for food in the late 1970s and 1980s.

We’ve released 570 juvenile crayfish into a tributary of the Ennig and a further 1,000 juveniles will be released next year to replace those killed in 2012.

The fish were reared at the Cynrig Fish Culture Unit, where a crayfish conservation strategy has been in place since 2009 which aims to protect existing crayfish populations and establish safe havens for the species.

– Oliver Brown, NRW Fish Culture Officer

What is proton beam therapy?

Credit: NHS Choices

Proton beam therapy is a form of treatment which uses sub atomic particles (protons) to target cancers.

Its advantage is that it can be focussed more narrowly on diseased tissue.

Conventional radiotherapy can damage surrounding tissue.

The proton beam damages the DNA of cancer cells which are particularly vulnerable to the treatment because they divide so quickly and have a reduced ability to repair the DNA damage.

It is important not to assume that newly emerging treatments are more effective than existing treatments.

Proton beam therapy may cause less damage to healthy tissue, but it is still unclear whether it is as good at destroying cancerous tissue as conventional radiotherapy.

As proton beam therapy is usually reserved for very rare types of cancer, it is hard to gather systematic evidence about its effectiveness when compared to radiotherapy.

– NHS Choices website

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Cardiff scientists discover cancer-fighting compound

Credit: Britta Pedersen/DPA/PA Images

Cardiff University says scientists have developed a new anti-cancer stem cell agent capable of targeting aggressive tumour forming cells common to breast, pancreas, colon and prostate cancers.

The new OH14 compound has been licensed by Tiziana Life Sciences, a British-based pharmaceutical company.

It will now undergo further development before undergoing clinical trials. Researchers say studies have shown it to be effective in eliminating a number of different kinds of cancers cells, including cancer stem cells from breast cancer patients.

The breakthrough comes almost exactly a year after the same research team announced that they had discovered a molecule capable of reversing the spread of malignant breast cancer.

Our computer aided drug screening process has now identified two new classes of anti-cancer agents, specifically targeting two distinct and novel mechanisms underpinning cancer.

– Dr Andrea Brancale, Cardiff University’s School of Pharmacy

Research finds number of bird strikes 'increasing'

Research by academics at Swansea University shows collisions between birds and buildings, power lines, wind farms and aircraft are increasing.

It suggests better management of the increasingly crowded airspace is needed to help animal conservation and reduce the human and monetary cost associated with collisions.

A paper by Professor Rory Wilson and Doctor Emily Shepherd from the Department of Biosciences with Sergio Lambertucci of the National University of Comahue, Argentina, has been published in the journal Science.

Credit: Niall Carson/PA Archive/PA Images

The study says bird strikes generally happen within 100 metres of the ground, where most flying animals operate and human activity is concentrated.

It says this is also where the majority of bird- aircraft collisions occur, which have led to more than 200 people being killed, thousands of aircraft being damaged, and which costs more than $900 million a year in the USA alone.

The research team also says there are strong arguments for establishing airspace reserves in aerial wildlife hotspots and temporary reserves could be introduced to protect birds when they migrate while permanent ones could be used could protect daily animal movements.

It is interesting to note that more is known about the routes of migrating animal that cross continents than those taken by animals in parks or towns.

But detailed data on how animals use space is now needed which can help guide local planning decisions, building designs and measures that protect our wildlife.

– Professor Rory Wilson
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